Report: No foul play in Zimbabwe general’s death

Mar 29, 2012, 4:13 PM

Associated Press

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) – An inquest has ruled there was no foul play in the death of a top power broker in President Robert Mugabe’s party, though many in Zimbabwe suspect that Gen. Solomon Mujuru was murdered.

The 66-year-old former army commander and husband of the nation’s vice president was burned beyond recognition in a fire at his farmhouse south of Harare last year.

The Herald newspaper, controlled by Mugabe loyalists, reported Thursday that Attorney General Johannes Tomana had given the daily the findings of a monthlong inquest that ended in February. The paper quotes Tomana as saying the findings are “well-reasoned and sound.” Tomana was quoted as saying he had instructed police to treat their investigations as “a closed and completed matter.”

“I agree with the conclusion of the inquest that no foul play suspicion is sustained,” Tomana said.

Mujuru’s family had insisted on the inquest amid speculation the general was murdered by political rivals. He was regarded as a key figure in party rivalry over finding a successor to Mugabe, who is 88. As head of a business empire of farms, properties and mines, Mujuru had been dismayed by the African nation’s economic meltdown under Mugabe and was seen as a voice of moderation in solving disputes that have paralyzed Zimbabwe’s three-year coalition government between Mugabe and his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Respected political scientist Ibbo Mandaza, a long-standing friend of the Mujuru family, on Thursday described the ruling as “shocking.”

“It leaves many questions unanswered. I am outraged” by the way it was published, he said. Routinely, inquest findings are delivered in an open court by the presiding magistrate.

Mandaza said that in the minds of most Zimbabweans the case “is not closed.”

Vice President Joice Mujuru was on an official trip to India on Thursday, said Thakor Kewada, her attorney.

Mrs. Mujuru has questioned why her husband, a veteran soldier who was physically active, did not escape the fire through large windows at the stone farmhouse. She has also asked for her husband’s remains to be exhumed at the national shrine where he was buried for further independent forensic analysis.

Senior South African pathologists said samples of the remains and ashes from the house tested in South Africa were not properly handled and could have been compromised. Intense heat virtually cremated Mujuru but the samples showed no sign that substances were used to ignite the fire or create the intense heat, the pathologists said.

Mrs. Mujuru had attended several inquest sessions and was visibly emotional when listening to testimony from pathologists, police officers and other witnesses.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Kewada held out the possibility that the inquest verdict will be appealed after he consults with the general’s family.

The Herald quoted the inquest ruling as saying that despite “suppositions, speculations and conjectures” there was no concrete evidence of murder and no evidence that Mujuru suffered injuries other than those caused by fire. Tomana said he released the inquest report to the newspaper “in the public interest” to end claims of murder with political motives.

At the inquest, witnesses described strangely colored flames rising from the general’s remains. A maid at the farm and a private security guard said they heard gunshots two hours before flames were seen.

The response by fire fighters was described as ineffective. Fire department officials told the court the water tanks of all its trucks leaked. Emergency services have suffered severe shortages of equipment and spare parts in the nation’s decade-long economic crisis.

Police in a VIP protection unit guarding the farm said their radio was broken, they had no airtime in their cell phones and the nearby police station had no vehicle to reach the scene.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Report: No foul play in Zimbabwe general’s death